Christmas Raw Food Truffles

This recipe comes from a workshop I attended with Melissa from Yoga Kitchen in Glasgow.  Since then, I’ve made several batches of raw truffles for Christmas parties and dinners and will definitely be making more as gifts. The most important thing about the truffles is that they taste great and as a bonus they’re easy to make and ridiculously healthy – vegan, gluten-free, sugar-free and full of fibre – surely they count as one of your 5-a-day?

Raw Truffles Recipe

1 over-filled cup of dates   *   1 teaspoon coconut oil

1 scant cup of nuts (cashews or walnuts)   *   1 teaspoon cocoa powder and more to roll

  • Soak the dates in boiling water whilst you prepare the other ingredients – I chop mine a bit first
  • Blitz the nuts in a food processor or hand blender – I use a hand blender with an enclosed attachment and pulse the nuts
  • Mix the ground nuts in a small bowl with the cocoa powder and any other dry ingredients
  • Strain the soaked dates and transfer to your blender with the coconut oil – you may need to do this in batches
  • Scoop the wet mix in to a large bowl and gradually mix in the dry ingredients
  • Using your hands, make small balls with the mix and roll these in cocoa powder or dessicated coconut
  • Store in the fridge in an air-tight container for up to 2 weeks, great as a snack for packed lunches

Variations

Christmas Spice: 1 heaped teaspoon of Mixed Spice in the dry mix

Rose & Cardamon: 1 tablespoon of Rose Water in the wet mix; 3 crushed Cardamons in the dry mix

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Beetroot Preservation, Pickling, Fermentation…

The weather in Glasgow has been glorious for the past week, bright autumnal sun through the changing leaves of the Horse Chestnut trees. It is starting to have a bit of a chill though, which means the decision to either lift or leave root vegetables – they could be frozen in place very soon. Since I’ve been a bit lazy with picking the Beetroot, there were about 10 left, growing a bit woody in the ground. So, I decided to lift them and preserve them for tangy treats through the Winter.

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I have 2 varieties of Beetroot, one seems happier to be big, being stripey and less woody, it also doesn’t lose its colour when boiled (this will be important later…). The second variety is a more traditional, blood red variety whose processing leaves the kitchen looking like a crime scene – it definitely loses colour in water and has beacome a bit woody and tough looking.

Pickling Beetroot

My initial thought was to pickle all of the Beetroot. After reading around, I realised that this was going to be challenging for Beetroot 2. All of the recipes recommend boiling your Beetroots whole and being meticulous about not having any breaks in the skin – this is to prevent the colour draining out. Hmmm, having left the Beetroot in the ground waaay too long, Beetroot 2 had been well nibbled by something – probably mice or voles – meaning that every Beetroot already had multiple breaks in the skin. So, pickling was going to have to be for Beetroot 1, which, as noted above, doesn’t bleed during cooking (the rodents had had their way with a fair amount of Beetroot 1 as well, or maybe it was the rabbit – apparently the allotment has acquired one).

RECIPE

1kg Beetroot

600ml spiced pickling vinegar (I used Cinnamon; Star Anise; Fennel & Mustard seeds and some fresh grated Ginger in the vinegar, bring to a slow boil, leave to cool and strain the spices out before use)

900ml brine: 30z of rock salt in 900ml water

  1. Keep the Beetroot whole if you can… Alternatively, chop in to even sized chunks and place in a pan with the brine, bring to the boil and cook until almost done. (One of the recipes that I read said, until 70% done, with the proviso that you shouldn’t prick with a knife as this breaks the skin – some people have a better psychic link to their Beetroot done-ness that I thought possible.)
  2. Drain the Beetroot and run under a cold tap to help to loosen the skins.
  3. Rub off the skins then chop the Beetroot in smaller chunks or slices
  4. Place the Beetroot in a jar, cover with the cooled vinegar and leave to pickle for at least a month.

Fermenting Beetroot

Well, this one is more of an experiment for my blood red Beetroot, I’ll know how well it has worked over the next week. I had a quick look around for recipes and then used the method for Kimchi that I’ve always found effective – fingers crossed.

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RECIPE

Beetroot          Salt         Bottled water      Flavourings (optional)

  1. Finely slice the Beetroot
  2. Massage the Beetroot with rock salt
  3. Leave in a bowl with a smaller bowl weighted on top for a couple of hours
  4. Transfer the salted Beetroot and any extracted liquid to a jar
  5. Add flavourings if you like – I used Oregano because it goes well with Beetroot and we had loads of it
  6. Press down on the Beetroot to get it under the level of the liquid
  7. If there isn’t enough liquid to cover the Beetroot, add a brine made with bottled water (tap water in the UK contains Chlorine which inhibits fermentation)
  8. Seal and leave for a week at room temperature, checking each day whether the Beetroot needs pushed back under the liquid. When it starts to bubble, that’s fermentation starting, I usually put a bowl under the jar to catch any overflow.
  9. When it’s fermented to your taste, transfer to the fridge and eat as a condiment or side dish.

Now all there is to do is wait…

 

Rosehip Syrup Recipe

Rosehips are abundant in early Autumn and Rosehip syrup is a great source of Vitamin C and can be used to boost the immune system and prevent coughs and colds – apparently anywhere up to 20 times as much Vitamin C as citrus fruits. This is a simple enough recipe, with few ingredients and just a bit of preparation required.

For the traditionalists, Rosehip syrup is made with Rosa canina – Wild or Dog Rose. The Rosehips are a distinctive red-orange, bullet shape but can be quite tough and difficult to process early in the season, then disintegrating to the touch much later on. You can also use hips from other varieties of Roses, Rosa rugosa with it’s fat, almost Tomato-like hips is a common escape around Glasgow and provides much more juicy flesh to extract. I like to use a mixture for convenience, whilst also ensuring plenty of quality, wild constituents – Roses that have been bred for blooms will not necessarily have the same therapeutic properties as their wild cousins. An important safety point, it is best not to pick from ornamental Roses, both ethically – they belong to someone else – and because they may have been sprayed with chemicals that you would rather not ingest.

 

Rosehip Syrup Recipe

Rosehips  1kg   *   Water     3 litres   *   Sugar       450g

2 Saucepans   *   Jelly Bag / double muslin   *    Clean bottles / Freezable container

 

  • Have 2 litres of water on the boil in a saucepan
  • Chop the Rosehips up as much as you can and add to the pan quickly – if you have a mincer, use this and mince the Rosehips directly in to your pan
  • Bring back to the boil, remove heat and leave for 15 minutes
  • Pour the pulpy liquid through a jelly bag, dripping in to a 2nd saucepan / large bowl
  • Take the pulp from the jelly bag and add back to the original saucepan with 1 litre of water
  • Boil, remove from the heat, leave for 10 minutes, then pass through the jelly bag again
  • Simmer all of the liquid in a clean saucepan until it reduces down to about 1 litre
  • Stir in the sugar to dissolve, bring to the boil for 5 minutes
  • Bottle your syrup in sterilised jars and/or pour in to a freezable container to make scoopable Rosehip syrup / sorbet

Use the Rosehip syrup through the winter to supplement Vitamin C, or as a topping for desserts.

Chop your Rosehips up a fair bit to get the most from the extraction, and get them gently cooking as soon as possible to preserve the Vitamin C. Over-cooking can also reduce the amount of available Vitamin C.

If you are using Rosa canina you may find the small hairs on the hips and seeds slightly irritating – wear gloves if you’re particularly sensitive and don’t squeeze the pulp in the jelly bag as some of the tiniest hairs may come through.

Spring Elderflower Vinegars / Shrubs

The first Scottish Radical Herbal Gathering is in September – tickets on sale in July. We recently got talking about the important entertainments aspect of the Gathering and wanted to make sure there will be some tasty forageables for the non-alcoholic attendees – we have a lot of options for wild alcohol… As I have a lot of Elderflower Recipes of the boozy and non-boozy varieties and, one of my favourites, Elderberry Vinegar, I thought, why not combine the two and look in to some Elderflower Vinegars?

Today, I managed to collect a good stash of Elderflower heads – unexpected bonus of the cooler weather is that I only brought one greenfly in to the flat and its sensitive pre-allotment seedlings on the windowsill. When you’re picking Elderflower heads it should ideally be early on a sunny day, so that you get maximum pollen before the insects get to it. In reality, you can pick later in the day, just give the flowers a good sniff to check they’re fragrant – this can vary a bit from tree to tree as well. A few points on picking, like all foraging, Elderflower picking is best done sustainably and respectfully, leaving plenty behind for the plant and other species’ who rely on it to survive. Respectful foraging also often means securing the main plant with one hand as you pick with the other – petals like Rose  and very ripe berries are probably the main exceptions. You should also try to remove the plant material cleanly and from a growth point to prevent dead material being left on the plant and potentially creating an easy environment for deseases. When I got home, I discovered that getting Elderflowers off of their stalks with a fork is a tad more labour intensive than getting Elderberries – which you can freeze and then they pop off. I recommend a good, long radio programme for when you have a go with these recipes.

I’ve used two recipes – one with sugar from the outset from JamJarShop and another with no sweeteners (yet) from GreatFoodClub They both take 2 to 3 weeks to infuse, after which I’ll strain them and then use the vinegar to make refreshing shrubs, diluted with soda water.I’m sure there’ll be some left for the Gathering in September.

Sugar-Free Recipe

  1. Sterilise a large jar – I used a Kilner which was just under 1L.
  2. I picked 15 elderflower heads for 900ml white wine vinegar.
  3. Pick the flowers and place in the jar, covering with the vinegar.
  4. Seal, and place on a sunny windowsill for 2-3 weeks.
  5. Strain through muslin and decant vinegar into bottles.
  6. Store in a dry, dark cupboard.

Sugary Recipe

Follow the steps above with slightly different ingredients, for a roughly 1L jar, I used:

18 elderflower heads /  450g caster sugar / zest of 1 orange / 650ml apple cider vinegar

 

Dandelion Coffee

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), a wonderful medicinal herb and scourge of gardeners with its invasive roots. Many parts of the Dandelion can be used for salads, coffee and medicinally.

As a lazy gardener, this year I had a bumper crop, so thought I’d try an old coffee-substitute, Dandelion Coffee.

Dandelion Coffee Recipe

  1.  Dig up the Dandelion roots and scrub them well
  2. Leave to dry for a couple of days in a warm room
  3. Chop the roots in to 1cm rounds
  4. Roast in a low oven for a couple of hours (mine went down to about a third of their original weight)
  5. Blitz the roots in an electric spice grinder – you now have some Dandelion Coffee

The Dandelion coffee can be used like instant coffee, simply adding hot water – it tastes good but does have a tendency to separate a bit if you leave it sitting, a quick swirl helps. An alternative method is to use an Italian-style stove-top coffee pot – the resulting drink was bitter-sweet and (to my amazement) really did taste like coffee. At a recent workshop on medicinal tastes, I made up some Dandelion coffee for people to try – one person who was avoiding caffeine was actually worried that I was feeding her “real” coffee – which I think is the best recommendation for this foraged brew. If you harvest your Dandelions later in the year, with a lower sugar content, you can add hot chocolate to complement the flavour.

Other Uses for Dandelion

The young leaves make a tasty addition to salads – they’re best harvested in Spring and from new growth. Like the whole plant, the leaves are slightly bitter and are great at the start of a meal to stimulate digestive juices and get your liver working well. The flowers are edible and can be used to brighten your salads from late Spring right through the Summer and early Autumn. The roots are harvested from Autumn to Spring – being sweeter in the Autumn as the canny forager takes advantage of the sugary starches the plant is storing as food for the Winter. The roots are commonly made in to a medicinal tincture, again a useful bitter for the liver and digestion in general.

Immune Boosting Herbal & Fruit Vinegars

So, I’ve got a bit of a cold and, being a good herbalist, I’ve neglected to look after myself properly and have only just remembered the bottles and bottles of soothing Elderberry Vinegar that are sitting in the spare / herbal room. Elderberries are full of Vitamin C and a great immune booster, they’re also conveniently in season in the Autumn, about the time the first colds are starting with the return to school and university and increased exposure to everyone else’s germs. I’m guessing this might also explain my current cold, everyone’s back to Glasgow with new and interesting bugs after far-flung festivities.

I’ve recently taken to calling the sweetened Elderberry Vinegar a “Shrub” as some people find the idea of drinking vinegar a bit off-putting. The basic recipe for any Fruit Vinegar is here.  Although it’s a bit late for foraged fruits here in Glasgow, you can also use shop-bought Raspberries or even Blackberries if you don’t mind the food miles. A more seasonal type of medicinal vinegar, which you can make now is the pungent, garlicky, herby Four Thieves’ Vinegar. Even better, although for maximum potency, your vinegar should stew for 2 weeks – the components of Four Thieves’ Vinegar are so strong, you’ll get some medicinal effects if you drink it with only a couple of hours of stewing.

A couple of quick notes about making vinegars. I often get asked which vinegar is best to use as the base to a medicinal vinegar or shrub. I usually go for Apple Cider Vinegar for stronger flavours like the garlicky Four Thieves’ Vinegar and/or if the vinegar isn’t going to be heated. White Wine Vinegar is best if the vinegar is going to be heated as part of the recipe, particularly to add sugar, as with the Fruit Vinegars. The direct heat denatures some of the ACV goodness and the blandness of White Wine Vinegar suits sweetening. It’s not essential to stick to these though, if you’re in a hurry and happen to have only one vinegar to hand, just use that.

Another common question is around adding sugar and sugar subsititutes. The basic Fruit Vinegar recipe does add a lot of sugar and this isn’t essential for preservation, but does bring out the flavour of the Elderberries and Blackberries in particular. So, if you’re going to use your Fruit Vinegar as a culinary, Balsamic-like dressing, sweetening is really a must. If you’re going for a medicinal Fruit Vinegar, you could leave out the sugar in the initial recipe and then add sugar or honey to your warmed vinegar drink. Some people have suggested adding honey to the basic recipe, but I wonder if prolonged heat is good for honey and think adding it as you drink would be better. I’ve yet to experiment with using natural plant sweeteners like Stevia and would definitely avoid artificial sweeteners.

Bramble Vinegar

Hogmanay Relaxation with Herbs & Massage

In the run-up to Hogmanay (New Year’s Eve for those of you outside Scotland) massage can relax, relieve tension and aid sleep. In the evening, a facial massage is straightforward to incorporate into your routine using oil or moisturiser, it will leave you revitalised and ready for the end of year celebrations.

FACIAL MASSAGE: Place your thumbs on either side of the bridge of your nose and take some slow, deep breaths, pressing gently on the out breath. Then make circular movements with the tips of your fingers around the brown bone and along to the temples, repeating as many times as you like. For sinus problems, work gently but firmly over the sinuses, with small circular strokes, following your breathing.

HAND MASSAGE: Press into your palm with the thumb of the other hand, then pull gently on the fingers one by one. Press gently down the back of the hand between the fingers to stimulate the circulation. Make small circular strokes around the joints and work gently on the wrists, especially if there has been any swelling or Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

ACUPRESSURE: HT (Heart Protector) 8 will calm and ease anxiety, this is useful if you’re feeling disoriented or anxious. Find the point by bringing the little finger down to the palm. HT8 is just between the bones where the tip of the little finger meets the palm.

Teas to Relax and Improve Energy

Chamomile; Lemon Balm; Catmint; Skullcap and Limeflower – relaxing herbal teas which taste good and can be used in most situations, including during pregnancy. If you drink teas at night to help you sleep, the extra liquid can make it more likely that you’ll wake up during the night to go to the toilet. In some cases a prescribed tincture or tablets may be more appropriate.

For more help with low energy levels, particularly if your situation is complex and/or you have a long term complaint, get in touch for a full herbal consultation in Glasgow, or find your local NIMH herbalist.